Oxford and Cambridge in Transition, 1558-1642: An Essay on Changing Relations between the English Universities and English Society

Oxford and Cambridge in Transition, 1558-1642: An Essay on Changing Relations between the English Universities and English Society

Oxford and Cambridge in Transition, 1558-1642: An Essay on Changing Relations between the English Universities and English Society

Oxford and Cambridge in Transition, 1558-1642: An Essay on Changing Relations between the English Universities and English Society

Excerpt

Universities belong to a select group of institutions about which people tend to think in absolute terms. Because they embody and are dedicated to intellectual ideals, they are easily idealized and endowed with universal qualities which place them somewhere outside the realm of the contingent with its dependence on human nature, time, and circumstance. As a consequence the history of universities is peculiarly liable to interpretations which are highly coloured, if not seriously weakened, by moral judgements. Too often the historians of the English universities have allowed a conception of what Oxford and Cambridge might have been or ought to have been in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to obscure understanding of what they were. This study is an attempt to restore the balance and to give a juster appreciation of them. It is based in part on new evidence such as the instructions which tutors gave their pupils, catalogues of student libraries, the contents of student notebooks, personal letters, autobiographies, and similar documents which offer an opportunity to examine what was actually happening within Oxford and Cambridge. These sources have been used in conjunction with better-known materials like university and college statutes and contemporary criticisms of university education. The result shows that a re-interpretation of the previously used materials is substantiated by the new evidence.

The chief theme of the book is that Oxford and Cambridge underwent in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries changes which, without interrupting the continuity of their history, both revitalized them and enlarged their functions in English society. One part of the study contains an account of those changes and the factors which produced them. Another traces out some of the more important ways in which the universities so transformed and renewed contributed to English life and culture. I have not, however, felt that I needed to discuss exhaustively all the possible ways of showing the continuing vigour of Oxford and Cambridge. For example, the development of university and college libraries and the influence of university life and education on the language, forms, and style of English literature are two subjects which . . .

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